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Planning Your Summer Vacation

Updated on May 23, 2016
Anna Marie Bowman profile image

Anna wears many hats: writer, mother, crafter. Over the years, she has found what works and what doesn't for herself and her family.

photo by AMB
photo by AMB

It's Not As Structured As It Sounds

Planning out your summer vacation doesn't mean that you have to plan out every single detail, of every day, or that you need to make a schedule. What I am talking about is more of a list of ideas.

Before summer vacation starts, I talk to both of my girls, and ask them what they would like to do over summer vacation. It could be anything from a place they wants to visit, to a simple activity. This way, we get a lot out of the summer, and hopefully, they learn something, as well.

Talk To Your Kids

Like I said, I sit down and talk with my girls. I ask them to give me some ideas of what they would like to do over the course of summer vacation. Some of the ideas are impossible, or they want to do too many expensive things(like trips to theme parks), but it gives me a place to start.

I have two girls, one younger and one quite a bit older. Each has different ideas, and I try to balance it out. If you do have more than one child, sit them down individually, and get an idea of what each child wants to do. Some of the ideas on their lists may be perfect for a little one-on-one time with either parent. Trust me, I know that it's hard to get some individual time with all of your kids when things like work, school, and just day-to-day life get in the way.

I try to bring up the subject several months ahead of time, that way I have time to plan things out, and try to budget. The older one usually gives me an outrageous list of expensive things to do, but I try to remind her that not everything has to be a huge event. I have compiled a list of ideas, some supplied by my daughters, some I came up with, and others inspired by browsing the internet (mainly Pinterest). The little one usually gives me vague ideas, like go to Nana's, or play in the pool.

If you want to get the kids more involved in the process, set up a vacation fund jar. Take any clean jar you have laying around, put a label on it saying something like "Vacation Fund" or "Summer Fun Money". Tell the kids that the amount of money in the jar will go towards the fun things you will be able to do over the summer. They can contribute allowance money, birthday money, or change they find on the sidewalk. Let them know that they don't have to contribute, but the more money there is in the jar, the more you will be able to do as a family. Also let them know that you will be contributing money, as well. Make sure they see you put money in the jar from time to time. This lets them know that you are all involved, and everyone should contribute.

Bigger Budget Activities

Theme parks may not be within everyone's budget, but several parts of the country offer a variety of choices for different budgets. I try to do one really big thing with them every summer. One year, we went to Disney World, another year, Sea World, and another year we chose a go-kart park nearby that was a little more budget friendly. Last year, we took them to Lion Country Safari. It was reasonably priced, and they both had a wonderful time.

Do a little research about what parks are near you. I know that some areas don't really have theme parks that are close enough to allow for a day trip. Check out a zoo instead. A lot of zoos still offer some rides, and other such things to entertain the kids. Check for discounts, or days when parks, zoos, or museums are offering free, or discounted admission. This is a great way to have the big budget fun, with a smaller budget price tag.

Mini-vacations are also a great idea, and can be done on just about any budget. We are currently planning a trip to The Keys, but have gotten together with other family members to make it more affordable. Choose a location that isn't too far away, no more than five to ten hours a way, that way you can make the most of the time you have.

Feeding the giraffes at Lion Country Safari
Feeding the giraffes at Lion Country Safari

A Day Out

Plan at least a couple of activities that take you out of the house for the day. We usually like to head to the beach, go hiking in the nature parks, or take a small weekend trip to visit family and friends.

A day out could also be a day of shopping, a visit to the mall, or similar activity, followed by lunch and a movie. I try to plan at least one of these days for me and each of my daughters. They absolutely loves it, and I always buy them a little something special. Their gift is not only a reward, but also a reminder of the time we spend together.

Some Fun Ideas For A Day Out:

  • A girls-only spa day is a great way to bond with older, and even younger, daughters. What girl doesn't like to feel pampered? A day out, starting with brunch, manicures/ pedicures, maybe getting a haircut, as well, sounds like a fantastic day out.
  • A picnic in the park would be fun for the whole family. The location could be some place special, or pretty much anywhere. Make sure to bring along a football, Frisbee, and other things to occupy your time.
  • The beach is always a great day out! If you don't live near the ocean, head to a lake, or take the boat out on the river. If you have older children, maybe take a kayaking tour. Bring a picnic lunch with you, and make a day out of it. Be sure to stop for ice cream.
  • Volunteering is a wonderful way to spend the day as a family. Find out what you can do in your area to give back. It may be something as simple as cleaning up the local park, volunteering at a shelter, or soup kitchen, or gathering things to donate to places like the Salvation Army or Goodwill.

A day on the boat is a wonderful thing to do as a family--photo by AMB
A day on the boat is a wonderful thing to do as a family--photo by AMB
A day at the beach is always fun for the family.--photo by AMB
A day at the beach is always fun for the family.--photo by AMB


As fun as a day out is, sometimes you just need to stay home. Maybe one of your kids is sick, or the weather is really nasty, or maybe you just don't feel like leaving the house. There are still a lot of wonderful, and fun things you can do to pass the time away. Get creative. Seek advice from other parents, or better yet, teachers, on great activities to do inside.

Some ideas for indoor activities:

  • Game Day: Plan a game day, where you play board games, video games, whatever. Make it a little more interesting by keeping track of who wins each game. Whoever won the most games, gets to pick the movie you watch that night, or gets to pick what's for dinner.
  • Craft Projects: My older daughter and I love doing craft projects together. Last year, we made our own Harry Potter wands, and she had a great time! The little one loves to paint, so we do painting projects together.
  • Movie Marathons: Grab a handful of movies from Redbox, or get started on the long list of movies in your Netflix account. Each child gets to pick one movie, and so do Mom and Dad. Make some popcorn and other snacks, and have a day in watching movies. My kids love this!! We close all the curtains, turn down the lights, and make it our own little movie theater.

Craft Projects Are Always a Hit at My House

Make It Official

When you have all your ideas put into a list, you need to make it official. No, I don't mean sign and date it, and have it notarized. That would be silly, and legally binding.

Get a big piece of poster board, and have the family get together, and write up the list. Make sure to let the kids decorate it in any way they like. When the list is all done, decorated, and had time to dry (if necessary), make sure to hang it up where you, and the kids can see it. It will be a reminder of all the things you want to do over the course of summer vacation.

As you complete each activity, let one of the kids check it off the list. Checking things off the list will give them a sense of accomplishment, and being included in every step of the planning process, will make them feel valued, important, and foster decision making skills that will help them throughout their lives. Giving them a list that they can check off, helps them to learn to set goals, and how to stick to them. Also, you now have a whole summer of awesome memories for the whole family. Make sure to take pictures, but not too many! Make sure you take time to enjoy the time with your family, not just document it.


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